One out of three American adults experiences sleep problems, whether restlessness, insomnia, a sleep disorder, or just not getting enough sleep. Many of us don’t even realize when we are overtired, since it seems to be such a common part of our lives. But without sleep, we can’t focus, problem solve, drive, cook, or read.
Many go to sleep clinics, get prescriptions or try over-the-counter medications and/or herbal supplements to try to sleep. All of these may be successful in varying degrees, but the costs can add up. Here are some cost-free basic steps to ensure your body is prepared for sleep and rejuvenated for each new day:
Sleep only when you are sleepy. Though not the best cure for insomniacs, this will make sure you rest well when you are tired and can function when you are awake.
If you can’t fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed, get up and do something soothing or even boring until you feel sleepy. Many people read until they feel drowsy, but any boring activity will do, such as filing, studying, counting cracks in the ceiling, etc. Without having to concentrate, your mind will be lulled into sleep.
Turn off everything in your sleeping room that produces light. Light stops the body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that makes you fall sleep and stay sleep into the night. If you do stay up doing a boring or tiring activity, do it with the lights low.
Avoid napping, because after a nap you may not be tired at bedtime. If you absolutely need to sleep to make it through the day, sleep less than half an hour and be sure you are up again before 3 p.m.
Keep your schedule stable by waking up and going to bed at the same times each day. Even on weekends, having a regular cycle will help you feel and sleep better.
Exercise regularly, but not within four hours of when you go to sleep. Working out speeds up your heart and wakes up your body. Doing exercise before you go to bed will rev up your body and keep you from falling asleep. Do continue to exercise, just do it in the morning or afternoon instead.
Have habits or rituals centered around when you go to sleep, whether it’s a cup of tea, listening to certain music, or relaxating yoga moves. If you do the same thing every day when approaching bedtime, those actions will signal your body that it’s time to wind down and start producing melatonin.
Use your bed only for sleeping. If you do the same activities in your bed that you do at your office, at the kitchen table or on the living room couch, your body will anticipate working, eating or TV watching instead of sleeping. If your bed is used only for sleep, when you get into bed your body will automatically begin to shut down for sleep. Make sexual activity the only exception to this rule.
Watch the substances you put in your body before you sleep. Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol are all stimulants that may hinder falling asleep. Keep track of what you’re eating and drinking, because tea, soda, chocolate and some prescription medications all contain caffeine.
Have a sleep inducing snack before bed. A healthy snack can fill your stomach so it’s not feeling empty and keeping you awake. Try a glass of warmed milk, some sunflower seeds, or even a turkey sandwich. Each of these contain tryptophan, a natural sleep inducer. These foods can create a soothing effect that will coax your body to enter sleep mode.
Take a hot bath about an hour before bed. Baths raise body temperature, but after you get out, your body temperature slowly drops, and as your temperature drops, your body readies for sleep.
Make sure both your bed and bedroom are quiet and comfortable. If you need warmth and coziness when you sleep, keep the room snug with lots of blankets. If noise from neighbors or outside bothers you, consider a white noise machine or wear earplugs. Whatever you need to sleep, make sure it’s a regular part of your bedroom.
Some further recommendations exist for children, because it is so important to maintain children’s regular sleeping habits as they continue to grow. If there is a television in your child’s room, remove it. Research has shown that watching TV is linked to sleep problems, particularly for children.
Consider putting a white noise machine in your child’s room, which can block outside noises. Make sure your child has a regular bedtime routine, with the same habits every night and the same bedtime. Be firm about the bedtime not changing.
Your children should be able to fall asleep by themselves, without you, another caregiver or someone else in the room. Children wake up multiple times during the night, and they may not be able to soothe themselves back to sleep without someone in the room if that’s what they are used to at bedtime.
Give these sleep habits a try and you may find that your sleep problems cure themselves.
Associated Professional Sleep Societies
Erin Petrun, reporting for CBS Broadcasting
University of Michigan Health System